Austin is no stranger to interruptions in water service, often the result of extreme weather events such as floods and epic freezes. On a long-term and longstanding basis, however, drought and heat pose the biggest threat to the region’s ability to supply water affordably to its residents and businesses. The situation is exacerbated by rapid population growth, a construction boom, and a lack of sufficient conservation.

Austin City Council took a small step toward improving conservation efforts Thursday, approving on consent an Austin Water pilot program to incentivize water reuse. Dubbed the Onsite Water Reuse System Pilot Incentive Program, it will offer “developments that incorporate systems to collect, treat, and reuse rainwater, stormwater, graywater, foundation drainage, air conditioning condensate, or blackwater for non-potable purposes onsite,” reads a city press release. One of the program’s goals is that capture and reuse of nonpotable water will enable better use of water from the Colorado River and Highland Lakes, making more potable water available to all. 

Developers who want to incorporate onsite water reuse systems can apply for incentive amounts up to $250,000 for those that replace 1,000,000 gallons or more of potable water per year and up to $500,000 for those that replace 3,000,000 gallons or more of potable water per year.

The city’s new Permitting and Development Center, which incorporates water reclamation and reuse systems, serves as an example of their potential impact on the potable water supply. Austin Water recently showcased its onsite collection and reuse and closed-loop advanced reclaimed assembly systems there in an exhibit aimed at familiarizing developers with sustainable water management practices. 

The two programs could save almost 1.5 million gallons of drinking water annually and reduce the site’s potable water use by 75 percent, according to the release. The project is the first of its kind in Texas and will provide performance data as well as, it is hoped, encourage developers to incorporate water capture and reuse in new projects.